A group of mainly Native American protesters blocked the road leading up to Mount Rushmore for three hours before President Donald Trump gave a speech at the national monument Friday night.
When they refused to disband, the protesters faced off with the South Dakota National Guard, which shot close-range shells at their feet and sprayed some protesters with pepper spray, according to theSioux Falls Argus Leader.
By 7 p.m., 15 protesters who refused to leave the road had been arrested.
Trump went on to give a divisive speech at Mount Rushmore, saying the country was under siege by “far-left” fascists waging “a merciless campaign to wipe out our history, defame our heroes, erase our values and indoctrinate our children.”
The Black Hills, where Mount Rushmore is located, is a sacred area for local Native Americans, and a contested space.
The Supreme Court in 1980 ruled that the United States had illegally taken the land from the Sioux tribe in a deal brokered in 1873. The Mount Rushmore carvings were completed in 1941.
Jeff Ostler, a historian at the University of Oregon, toldABC Newsthat the federal government had offered the Sioux people a settlement of $1 billion for taking the land. The tribe has refused, saying they will only accept their land back.
Some of the protesters on Friday held signs reading “Protect SoDak’s First People,” “You Are On Stolen Land,” and “Dismantle White Supremacy,” according to theAssociated Press.
Hehakaho Waste, a spiritual elder with the Oglala Sioux tribe, told the AP: “The president needs to open his eyes. We’re people, too, and it was our land first.”